On Thursday, The New York Times reported that President Trump had pressed James Comey, then FBI director, to spread word that he was not personally under federal investigation. That detail was news to Benjamin Wittes, a friend of Comey's and a named source for other anecdotes in the Times article, but Wittes wanted to elaborate on his casual lunchtime conversations with Comey, he wrote in Lawfare Thursday night, because after reading the article, "I immediately understood certain things Comey had said to me over the previous few months in a different, and frankly more menacing, light."
Wittes' general impression is that Comey was preoccupied with protecting the FBI from inappropriate White House interference and also from attempts to "absorb him into Trump's world — to make him part of the team." But the details Wittes recalls are pretty interesting, like his elaboration of Comey's attempt to avoid Trump's literal embrace at a post-inaugural reception in the White House Blue Room:
As he told me the story, he tried hard to blend into the background and avoid any one-on-one interaction [with Trump]. He was wearing a blue blazer and noticed that the drapes were blue. So he stood in the back, right in front of the drapes, hoping Trump wouldn't notice him camouflaged against the wall. ... The meeting was nearly over, he said, and he really thought he was going to get away without an individual interaction. But when you're 6 foot, 8 inches tall, it's hard to blend in forever, and Trump ultimately singled him out. ... Comey took the long walk across the room determined, he told me, that there was not going to be a hug. ... Look at the video, and you'll see Comey pre-emptively reaching out to shake hands. Trump grabs his hand and attempts an embrace. The embrace, however, is entirely one sided. Comey was disgusted. [Wittes, Lawfare]
The other detail that retroactively struck Wittes was that Comey, to his surprise, was wary about Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosentein, who hadn't been confirmed at that point. "Rod is a survivor," Comey said, according to Wittes, and political survival doesn't come without compromises. Since Comey had been asked to pledge personal loyalty to Trump, Wittes surmises, "he was asking himself, I suspect: What loyalty oath had Rosenstein been asked to swear, and what happened at whatever dinner that request took place?" Read the entire post at Lawfare. Peter Weber
In their quest to cut taxes while not running up huge deficits, Senate Republicans have had to find creative ways to save money in their forthcoming tax reform bill. Although some estimates say that the Republican tax bill would add $1.8 trillion to the federal debt over 10 years, you can rest assured that the Republican Party is committed to cutting irresponsible spending: In an effort to save money, the new plan will prevent your employer from being able to write off lunches purchased for workers or workplace entertainment, HuffPost reported Wednesday.
The move would save $23 billion over 10 years, HuffPost reported — or just 1.3 percent of the total expected deficit increase. Under the current tax code, employers who give the majority of their workers free lunches can deduct 50 percent of the cost. The House version of the bill does not touch free workplace lunch, but it would eliminate tax breaks for employer-paid day care assistance programs, as well as employee-sponsored moving expenses and achievement awards, all for the sake of saving $12 billion.
But the Senate tax bill isn't all bad news! The exemption for the estate tax will be doubled, so if you happen to inherit less than $10 million from a dead relative, you won't have to pay any taxes on the money — which should definitely help you pay for lunch if your employer won't give it to you. Kelly O'Meara Morales
The Roy Moore campaign lashed out at The Washington Post on Wednesday, dubbing the paper "a worthless piece of crap" after it pressed the campaign to provide documentation it claimed to have that discredited one of the several women who have come forth to accuse the Alabama Senate candidate of sexual misconduct.
A spokesperson for the Moore campaign told supporters Tuesday that it was in possession of documents which supposedly showed that Leigh Corfman — who accused Moore of sexually assaulting her when she was 14 years old — lied about her address in the Post's story about Moore's sexual misconduct. The Post followed up with the campaign Tuesday, asking for proof of the documents, but while the campaign initially said it would comply, strategist Brett Doster struck a very different tune in an email Wednesday: "There is no need for anyone at The Washington Post to ever reach out to the Roy Moore campaign again because we will not respond to anyone from the Post now or in the future," Doster wrote. "Happy Thanksgiving."
For good measure, Doster added: "The Washington Post is a worthless piece of crap that has gone out of its way to railroad Roy Moore." Post reporter Michael Scherer said that a longtime Moore aide presented the paper with evidence that "did not contradict what Corman has told the Post."
The campaign has vehemently denied allegations of the candidate's sexual misconduct and has tried to call into question proof given by his accusers. On Tuesday, President Trump told White House reporters that Moore had "totally denied" the allegations of sexual misconduct, which he added took place over 40 years ago, "so, you know." Kelly O'Meara Morales
In 2015, a public commenting period led to Obama-era guidelines protecting net neutrality. But bots intent on dismantling net neutrality took over this round, Vanity Fair reported, borrowing real Americans' addresses to leave hundreds of thousands of comments under fake identities advocating against the rules. And with FCC chairman Ajit Pai's Monday confirmation that net neutrality rules are coming down, it looks like they're getting their wish.
In an open letter to Pai, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman revealed that he's been investigating these questionable comments for months. But the FCC hasn't cooperated:
Over the last 6 mos, my office has investigated a massive scheme to corrupt the @FCC's comment process on #NetNeutrality by impersonating 100,000s of real Americans.
The FCC has been unwilling to provide information that is critical to the investigation: https://t.co/xxFjSg6Pxf
— Eric Schneiderman (@AGSchneiderman) November 22, 2017
Schneiderman said the situation likely violated state laws, as it used New Yorkers' identities to leave fake comments. Yet despite multiple requests, the FCC has refused to aid Schneiderman's investigation — meaning "the door is open for (this) to happen again and again," he wrote. Kathryn Krawczyk
The Trump Organization is walking away from its struggling hotel in Manhattan's SoHo neighborhood, The New York Times reports. It is the second hotel the organization has removed its name from this year, after a similar situation developed in Toronto.
The SoHo building, which also has condominiums, closed its main restaurant earlier this year due to a decline in business "since the election," in the words of one of its lawyers. The owner of the building, the CIM Group, reportedly reached a deal to buy out the Trump Organization from the property; the Trump company manages daily operations at the building. "The Board and CIM have been first class in every regard," said the CEO of Trump Hotels, Eric Danziger, in a statement. "We have truly enjoyed our relationship and look forward to exploring new opportunities in the future."
Ahh, Thanksgiving. That special time of year when you set out your most over-the-top centerpiece, strap on your eating pants, and gather around the table to talk tax policy with relatives you only see once a year.
That's what Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) imagines happens, anyway. On Monday, Schumer tweeted a chart made by the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, instructing his followers to bring it to "Thanksgiving dinner" to whip out when "that family member who always talks politics tells you the Republican tax bill helps the middle class," the Washington Examiner reports.
Bring this chart to Thanksgiving dinner. It’ll come in handy when that family member who always talks politics tells you the Republican tax bill helps the middle class. pic.twitter.com/2EpZ5PxcDY
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) November 19, 2017
But Schumer wasn't done delivering graphics for you to surprise your unsuspecting relative with at some point between the turkey carving and the pumpkin pie:
Oh, don’t forget to show your Uncle this as well! pic.twitter.com/YHRGTvvwAo
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) November 19, 2017
Happy Thanksgiving to you too, Chuck! Jeva Lange
Rep. John Conyers' legacy was upended Monday when a BuzzFeed News report detailed sexual harassment allegations made against the Michigan Democrat. Now, the editorial board of the Detroit Free Press, his slightly left-leaning hometown paper, is calling for him to step down.
The longtime congressman is known as a civil rights icon and a co-founder of the Congressional Black Caucus, facts the Free Press acknowledged in its scathing editorial published Tuesday. But he's also been accused of making sexual advances toward an employee — and having her fired when she refused.
That's enough to spark an inquiry into Conyers, the Free Press said. But his misconduct runs deeper: If the victim dropped her formal complaint against Conyers, his office said it would "re-hire" her and pay her as a temporary employee. The woman eventually agreed to those terms, receiving more than $27,000 over the course of three months. It's similar to a time Conyers kept paying his former chief of staff even after she was fired — payments the Free Press said look like "hush money."
While the editorial board did suggest reforming the Congressional Office of Compliance so these payoffs don't keep happening, that is "not the point with Conyers." "It's a betrayal that breaches the most fundamental trust that exists between a public servant and the people that person represents," the Free Press wrote.
Russian ads reportedly reached an estimated 126 million Facebook users during the presidential campaign, likely leaving some people wondering if they are among those who might have fallen for Kremlin propaganda. On Wednesday, the social media giant announced that it will be creating a page to help users identify which accounts they liked or followed that were discovered to be linked back to a Russian "troll farm," Axios reports. Facebook says to expect the tool to be available in its Help Center by the end of the year, The Hill reports.
The Senate Judiciary Committee's Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) had demanded that Facebook "individually notify any and all users who received or interacted with [Russian] advertisements and associated content," issuing similar orders to Twitter and Google. Facebook, though, will not tell users "whether they were exposed to content from the [Russian troll farm's] pages in their Newsfeed, even if they didn't follow them," Axios notes.